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An array of colors of hundreds of varieties of flowers draws tens of thousands of customers to Honeymoon Acres Greenhouse in New Holstein every year.

An array of colors of hundreds of varieties of flowers draws tens of thousands of customers to Honeymoon Acres Greenhouse in New Holstein every year. Photo By Ray Mueller

Greenhouse business a way of life

May 17, 2013 | 0 comments


For the McShaw family, operating the Honeymoon Acres Greenhouse for the past 30 years is strictly a family activity - one that Marci McShaw describes as "similar to farming - a way of life."

Her husband Joe goes beyond that to stress that their business, which starts with the germination of seeds on-site and culminates with the selling of vegetable set plants, annual bedding and potted plants, potted bedding plants, hanging baskets, and other specimens, is an authentic agricultural activity that is not often recognized as such.

Those were some of the points that the McShaws, whose family includes their sons Clint and Dwight and daughter Falena, made to the visiting group of the four Alice in Dairyland finalists and the three on the selection panel during one of their stops at agri-businesses in Calumet County as the selection of the state’s 66th Alice in Dairyland neared.

The tour started at the original site of the business off Honeymoon Hill Road outside of the city. When the property was acquired in 1984, "we started with nothing," Joe McShaw told the visitors.

Business Success

After the business developed and thrived for 20 years, the McShaws bought property at the northwestern edge of New Holstein along a state highway.

This is now their retail center for their main selling periods in the spring and at the end of the year for mainly Christmas season items such as trees, wreaths, and poinsettias.

Joe McShaw is a native of Pennsylvania, where his family was also involved in the greenhouse business and in beekeeping.

He also had a stint in truck farming before moving here and starting the business with Marci, who is a native of Fond du Lac.

Early every year, the family is busy with selecting and starting the seeds and flower plant cuttings that will be sold several months later.

They acquire many of their raw materials from Griffin Greenhouse Supplies of Tewksburg, MA, which bought the horticulture division of Syngenta Seeds, based at Lisle, IL., in November of 2012.

Costa Rica and Argentina are among the distant sources of some of the cuttings.

Automated Practices

At their original site, the McShaws showed the Alice in Dairyland group the lineup of machines for placing seeds into flats and for the automated pickup and placement of young plants from densely populated packs.

The separated plants are placed on heated benches and misted as necessary in preparation for retail sale.

In that respect, Honeymoon Acres differs from the many other outlets where young vegetable plants and flowers are sold. The majority of those outlets acquire their plants from major centralized suppliers.

To compete with such huge operations, Honeymoon Acres prepares some 2 million plants but with the knowledge that many of them will not be sold, Joe McShaw acknowledged. "We need to have some waste in order to make money."

Keeping the waste to a minimum requires planning, attention to what didn’t sell in the previous year, and what plants died before reaching retail, McShaw explained. He will not give plants away in order to clear the inventory.

Customer Focus

"We’re known for our plants, not for ourselves," the McShaws emphasized. The "ourselves" is restricted to the immediate family of five, which handles all of the work, including the retail sales counter.

One exception is the trading of some services (but not customer contact) with the owner of an orchard near Casco.

Keeping customers happy is the key at Honeymoon Acres, Joe McShaw stated. The family does not hire any part-time employees for the busy sales periods and is willing to give up a sale if no one is available to handle odd or special requests.

They also don’t want to run the risk of having someone who’s not experienced in the business giving faulty advice or wrong information to customer questions.

With lots of signs and with in-pack identification of the vegetable plants, self-service is in order for customers in the three greenhouses and the outdoor area at the retail store.

The McShaws realize that a great majority of their customers are experienced, know what they’re looking for, and how to grow it.

For those who do not, the McShaws publish an annual catalog of their inventory. This year’s listing includes 40 standard and 24 heirloom tomato varieties and dozens of choices for other vegetable plants such as peppers.

That what they’re doing is right is indicated by the 19,000 customers who come to the retail store every year from April-June. Joe McShaw said the longest wait that he knows about for checking out has been 20 minutes.

Sales Statistics

Of the annual sales, about 15 percent of the dollar volume is from annual plants while the great majority comes from flowers.

Perennials, shrubs, fruit and shade trees, statuary, and landscape services are also available but those sales have weakened since the economic decline in 2008 - a widespread phenomenon as indicated by the 40-percent drop in sales by Bailey Nurseries, a Minnesota-based major supplier of those plant species during that period, Joe McShaw pointed out.

At Honeymoon Acres this year, the unusual spring weather has had a major impact on the sales pattern. Sales during April were the lowest ever for the month while the second week of May picked up part of the slack with record high sales for that week.

The McShaws were expecting sales of about $25,000 on the day of the Alice in Dairyland tour (May 9). Their record-high sales day (heading into a Mother’s Day weekend) was $72,000.

Business Challenges

But the expenses are not modest either, the McShaws point out. They spend about $40,000 per year on chemicals and treat the water that is obtained from two high-capacity wells before it is sprayed on the plants.

There are also regulations to comply with, ranging from inspections by federal and state agencies to what local zoning, planning, and even sign placement regulations will allow.

At the moment, Joe McShaw is frustrated in dealing with a local regulation, which requires a certain setback distance from the asphalt driveway to the retail store - not from the adjacent highway - for a planned new sign.

The McShaws also enhance the retail site and its surroundings. Dozens of lighted deer decorate the sideyard between the retail store and the highway.

A train carrying Santa Claus appears late in the year.

And a near life-size Holstein showed up this year to oversee part of the outdoor plant display area, which the McShaws would like to put under cover.

While the McShaws realize they’re in "a changing industry" as more outlets are selling plants, they relish the customer connections they have made and are keeping with the tens of thousands who come to their greenhouse every year in a community with about 3,500 residents.

Whether a customer is happy or grumpy while at the business, Marci McShaw believes all of them are trying to make their property look good and to "fill their brain and soul" while doing so.

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